Season 5, it seems, has taken a few steps into the world of the strange and the experimental when it comes to its approach to storytelling. Something that has had pretty mixed results as far as I’m concerned. When you’ve been watching this series non-stop for months on end, it can be easy to get some form of tunnel vision with it.
That being said, I’m certainly happy that it isn’t simply telling the same old war stories that the first few seasons did. But in a way, it makes it seem like the people making the Clone Wars were already itching to grow beyond it at this point.
Season 5, Episode 10: Secret Weapons
Like with the episodes at the end of the previous season, where the title card was coloured red to build hype for the return of Darth Maul, the title for these next four episodes are painted a light blue colour. In commemoration for everyone’s favourite astromech droid R2-D2. As he’s the only recognisable character present throughout most of these episodes.
And even then he isn’t really a focus in them.
The plot of this first episode revolves around a team of droids being tasked with infiltrating a Separatist flagship in order to steal an encryption module. Something the Republic can use to recode intercepted messages between Separatist forces. While Mace Windu lays the mission out to the four astromechs, it seems like a mission that should be in safe hands, especially with R2 present.
Although it makes me wonder why exactly he would need to give a pep talk/debriefing to a collection of droids. After all, surely you’d just programme the mission into them and let them go on their way.
That would be boring though. It’d also stop the audience from knowing the plot of the episode. And finally, there’s also the key focus of this episode. You see, there’s always been this strange treatment of droids in the Star Wars universe. They’re machines, but they’re always treated as semi-people. By the writers and the characters in the story both. It’s very rare droids are treated like the detached, analytical artificial intelligences that a lot of other science fiction likes to toy with when dealing with synthetic characters.
Which comes to be the actual character crux of this episode by the time it introduced the actual two main characters of these two episode: The brazen but bumbling Pit droid named WAC-47 and the diminutive Zilkin Colonel Meebur Gascon. Right from the start, I was concerned about this episode. The bumbling incompetence of WAC, as well as the excess of physical comedy that came from his unearned bluster combined with Gascon’s tiny size made me think this was a going to be a very comedically driven episode.
One for the kids.
As the episode wears on, it becomes apparent that Gascon’s R. Lee Ermey-like bravado is all a front. Despite his rank, he has spent all of his military career behind a desk. Which makes sense considering he’s the height of a pint glass. This is his first mission on the front lines and he is desperate to for it to be a success, to prove himself.
It makes me wonder why the Republic would entrust such an important mission to a squad who all seem less than competent. It almost likes they’re being set up to fail. They don’t of course. Through the blundering incompetence of the droid army themselves, as well as the occasional bout of heroics from R2-D2, the mission does end up being a success. Although that ends up being a secondary element to the real drive of the episode.
Which ends up being Gascon’s treatment of the droids as something more akin to peers, rather than mere machines. Starting the episode by giving them reductive nicknames, and ending it by addressing them by their actual names. It’s mostly kind of cute, but honestly, I mostly found it a little obnoxious.
WAC’s personality is kind of grating. While he does show that he’s not a total incompetent throughout the episode, his constant, undeserved boasting about being a class higher than the other droids, as well as his smug berating of the Colonel when he realises the diminutive alien lacked combat experience was grating to me.
This one felt like it was mostly for the kids. And while Star Wars does a good job of being a brand for everyone, Clone Wars certainly has a younger audience demographic at the forefront of its creative mind.
Season 5, Episode 11: A Sunny Day in the Void
Following on from the events of the previous episode, I was surprised by how different this episode ended up being compared to the previous one. While it follows the same collection of characters, it does it while being one of the most experimental in both its visuals and its abstract dealings with concepts like purpose.
Looking it up, the whole thing is a homage to George Lucas’s directorial debut filmTHX 1138, but more closely to French comic book artist Jean Giraud.
The shuttle drops out of hyperspace amidst a comet storm. It’s a very visually striking looking sequence in which the ship darts between comets while the four astromechs go out onto the ship’s exterior to repair the damage done by the icy rocks. While they do manage to avoid utter destruction, they still crash land on a nearby planet.
The planet itself is incredibly striking looking. The ground is a hard, pure white sand. One that stretches out endlessly in a flat plane. Additionally, the sky is a flat orange, dense enough to not even reveal the location of the sun. It makes the place feel like some strange otherworldly void. Which is the word the characters keep using to describe it.
Much of the episode from here are the characters wandering through the desert, with Gascon and WAC bickering with one another. Over the distinction between a droid’s programming and a soldier’s training, and if they’re even that different at all. While Gascon seems to be slowly losing his mind in the endless expanse before him, the droids march on without concern. It’s a very strange and experimental approach to an episode.
And one that feels as different from the one that preceded it as it could possibly be. It continues to deal with the merits of being a living breathing person in comparison to being a droid, who seem totally unaffected by the sensory deprivation effects of the featureless desert around them. In the end, WAC’s relentless drive to complete the mission beings Gascon out of his psychosis and he comes to the conclusion that sometimes you need to ignore your training/programming and rely on instinct.
A conclusion that comes with the revelation that this world is not a barren, uninhabitable wasteland. A herd of Emu-like dinosaurs charge by and lead the characters to some kind of settlement. One that looks totally deserted to me. But hey, there’s water and hopefully a way to get off-world.
These were to very different episodes focusing on the same two main characters. While WAC was far, far less obnoxious in the second episode, Gascon made up for it by being incredibly overdramatic over his perceived failure of his mission. And his probable death I suppose. While I could take or leave the first episode, A Sunny Day in the Void was an incredibly cool looking episode that did deal with some headier topics.
Albeit ones that were digestible to a younger audience. From a visual standpoint though, it was very cool. From the blue and black comet storm in the beginning that contrasts with the orange and white void in the second half it was certainly unique enough that I stands out amongst many of the episodes I’ve seen over the past month or so.
Plus, it’s interesting to see the show delve into the nature of droids a little more. While I’m not too much of a fan of stories that deal with the whole slave race nature of the droid in the Star Wars universe, I do like the stories that treat them like any other alien race in the universe, one that has both advantages and disadvantages over organics rather than being purely “superior”. Because that’s not how Star Wars deals with Droids.
They have their own weird, unique dynamic all their own. They’re emotional, wilful beings that also mostly seem content to be subservient to the organics. Turning them into an allegory for slavery in the real world seems like low hanging fruit to me when it comes to storytelling, and seeing stories like this that deal with the differences in their natures instead is much more compelling and unique to the Star Wars universe.
I have no idea what to expect from the following two episodes following these characters.